There are many things that you might need to do between the first meeting with your attorney and the start of child custody court proceedings. Much of the preparation will likely be centered around evidence management and discovery. Negotiations between your attorney and your child’s parent’s attorney may also continue, even if it becomes evident that no settlement agreement will be reached. This can help to provide the clearest understanding of the contested issues that will be before the court at the custody hearing. This blog discusses how preparing for child custody court proceedings can help your attorney not only get you the best possible outcome, but save you money while doing it.
Although your lawyer will provide you with a list (sometimes one list after another) of documents and information you will need to provide, it is important to remember that this is your life and no one else has lived it as you have. So, even after hearing your story, there will be many things about your situation that your attorney just does not know. If any of these facts that your attorney is missing are relevant to child custody and support the resolution you desire, you may not get the outcome for which you are asking. Perhaps the best way to help ensure that this does not happen is to become familiar with the applicable child custody laws so that you have an understanding of what the judge will be looking for when determining custody in your case, and can provide that information to your attorney.
There are two main statutes governing child custody. The first applies to an original custody order, (I.C. 31-17-2-8) providing that custody will be determined based on the best interests of the child, with no presumption in favor of either parent. It further states that when deciding what the best interests of a child are, the court will consider all relevant factors including, but not limited to, the child’s adjustment to their home and school, relationship with parents and siblings, the age and sex of the child, any pattern of domestic violence in the home, the mental and physical health of all parties, and the child’s wishes, with more weight given to a child’s wishes if the child is at least 14 years of age. The second statute applies to modifications of a custody order (I.C. 31-17-2-21) and requires that the court first find a substantial change in one of the factors effecting a child’s best interests, enumerated in I.C. 31-17-2-8, before it considers a modification. To convince a court that any one factor works in your favor, you will need to present relevant evidence concerning that factor. School report cards, disciplinary files, and awards, healthcare records, photos and videos, e-mails and text messages, and the testimony of witnesses can all be presented as evidence to support your theory of the case, or side of the story.
Texts and e-mails should be printed and given to your attorney along with any documentary evidence that you have. To better assist your attorney in identifying a piece of evidence, consider using a sheet protector for each item and including a note with the date that the photo was taken or message sent, where it came from, and a brief description of what it helps to prove. Also, when discussing evidence with your attorney, pay careful attention to what they say about the rules of evidence, relevance of evidence, and admissibility of testimony. There are many procedural rules that can prevent a witness from being asked certain questions or giving answers which are not admissible. These rules may also exclude tangible items of evidence as well. You may need to get records from your child’s school or healthcare provider certified, leave out a witness you expected to testify for you, or omit references to a specific issue from your testimony in order to comply with the rules of evidence and stay focused only on what is relevant to the custody dispute.
Finally, keep in mind that while you are preparing for court, so is your child’s other parent. This means that you should be on your best behavior during the time leading up to your custody hearing. Keep interactions with the other parent civil and polite and limit conversation topics to those involving your child. You may also want to pay particular attention to how you interact with others and what you post on social media. You need to look like the reasonable parent in court. The one concerned only with what is best for their child. It is never a bad idea to prepare a parenting plan with the schedule you believe is in your child’s best interest and a parenting time calendar which includes birthdays, vacations, special events, and the child’s extracurricular activities so that you can visually show the court your custody plan and proposed schedule (CustodyXChange). Many parents also find that keeping a parenting journal to note any missed parenting time, document interactions with the child’s other parent, and track the other parent’s participation in the child’s school functions and activities can be helpful when preparing for custody proceedings and testifying at a custody hearing.
If you need assistance preparing for child custody court proceedings and presenting your case at hearing, the experienced attorneys at Ciyou & Associates, P.C. will fight for you and ensure that you and your child’s rights are protected through-out the process. This blog was written by attorneys at Ciyou & Associates, P.C. It is for general educational purposes. The blog is not intended to be relied upon for any legal matter or issue. The blog is not legal advice. This is an advertisement.